Posts Tagged ‘history’

Technocratic Design

November 2, 2009

Somewhat frightening that my first post was linked to from a serious urban design and planning blog, La Ciudad Viva, based in the Andalusia region of Spain.  I guess they didn’t realize I’m only a grad student who hasn’t even told his friends about his blog yet!

But whether I like it or not, Manu Fernandez linked to my post on Charter Cities from his commentary Ojalá el desarrollo urbano fuera tan sencillo.  Something like “If only urban development were that simple” … my thoughts exactly.  With the help of a little machine translation I can get a sense of his argument, and it’s obvious what he’s getting at where he quotes me on el diseño tecnocrático.

That got me thinking about technocratic design, and a man often associated with, or blamed for it.

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Phenomenology [presentation response]

October 29, 2009

A few weeks ago at the history-theory faculty colloquium Bob Mugerauer presented on Heidegger, and (as usual, it seems) the discussion got cut off right when it became interesting. Ralph Stern, citing Christian Norberg-Shulz as an example of someone using phenomenology as a method to theorize architecture, raised an interesting question.

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Gwathmey and the New York Five

October 19, 2009

The appreciation of Charles Gwathmey by Nicolai Ouroussoff titled “As Heroes Disappear, the City Needs More”, published in the New York Times about two months ago, highlighted Gwathmey’s association with the “New York Five” and the white-gray debate in the early 1970s.[1]  Nice to see some attention to that transitional period, when Modernism in architecture was turning into something else, not yet named.

Ouroussoff is right to tie the NY5’s focus on “architecture as art form” to the sense that Modernism as a project of social reform had failed.

The group’s greatest contribution, in retrospect, was its assertion that architecture had not reached a dead end. The architects saw themselves as artists and thinkers — not activists — and this was particularly true of Peter Eisenman, sometimes to a fault. The distorted grids of his early houses, with their references to Renaissance precedents and Structuralist theory, were not only a way to thumb a nose gleefully at [Jane] Jacobs-style populism; they also elevated conceptual ideas above material and structure, the life of the mind over the life of the body.

But this narrative, while not uncritical of the conceptual move, glosses over an obvious question.

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Inertia in Urban Form and Modes of Occupation

October 10, 2009

Matthew Yglesias describes the cycling-friendly city of Copenhagen and how it got to be that way:

Back in the 1970s there were a substantial number of cyclists in what I guess you would call the “pre car” mode where people ride bikes because the country is too poor for everyone to afford a car. Then came the oil crisis and driving got even more expensive. And alternative policies started to be explored where for the first time the country started consciously trying to encourage bicycling. And the policy was never really dropped. So you have lots of cyclists which creates a constituency for more infrastructure which leads to more cycling which creates a constituency for more infrastructure.

He sees something similar, or at least the potential for it, in New York and D.C.  This cycling example exemplifies a dynamic of change that is to some degree inherent in the built environment.  His term “path dependence” sounds a little too rigidly causal, though.  Not a path so much as a field of ongoing interactions – between social and cultural norms, economic facts, political actions, and the physical form of the built environment.

I would especially emphasize the last.  Read the rest of this entry »